July 03, 2007
Isaiah gets the last word (hopefully)
Posted by: Chris
For someone who claims to be censored, Isaiah Washington sure does talk a lot. By my count he's given a half-dozen well-publicized interviews since being canned from "Grey's Anatomy," but there he was again last night on "Larry King Live," saying no one had heard his side of the story on the "F-word" flare-up that cost him his job.
Washington has been a moving target all along, taking responsibility without actually taking responsibility — apologizing to castmate T.R. Knight, who came out as a result of the October incident, even while repeatedly denying he used the word in reference to Knight in the first place.
Of course not much light was shed by Larry King, who in his inimitable kid-glove style walked Washington through his October clash with castmate Patrick Dempsey.
Readers' digest: Washington claims Knight had complained to him during a long plane flight about abusive treatment by Dempsey, and Washington encouraged Knight to raise the issue with "Grey's" producers. In October, after several unrelated incidents in which Dempsey was late on set, the two actors got into a heated exchange.
KING: So why does that lead to this word?
WASHINGTON: [Dempsey] got un -- became unhinged, face-to-face, spittle to spittle, in my face -- first. I did not start it. And I'm asking him why is he screaming at me, why are we doing this? Get out of my face. Several times. Several times. And he just becomes irate. But I'm not understanding why am I being berated to this point in front of our crew, particularly after what we experienced in Seattle [when Dempsey was several hours late]. You know, I mean, I think you owe me on apology and I'm being berated.
And by that time I pushed him out of my face and it just took off from there and I began to say a lot of -- a lot of things that I'm not really proud of -- but all referring to myself and how I felt I was being treated.
KING: But how did the bad word come out of that?
WASHINGTON: Well, I said several bad words, as well as he did.
KING: To him?
WASHINGTON: To him about how I was feeling. I said there's no way you're going to treat me like a "B" word or a "P" word or the "F" word. You can't treat me this way in front of our crew.
KING: So you weren't referring to him as being an F person?
WASHINGTON: Never. Never.
KING: Or anybody else being one?
WASHINGTON: Never, Larry. Never, never, never, never.
King (of course) accepted the explanation at face value, but later in the show, in retelling the story, Washington's account changed significantly, in a way that explains the connection with the in-flight conversation Washington previously had with Knight, and in a way that explains why pretty much everyone but Washington took his "F-word" reference as a shot at Knight.
WASHINGTON: I said, "I don't -- I don't want to bring anymore attention to this than I already have. I don't want to throw anybody under the bus, but I've got to clear my name. I -- this is misinterpreted. I did not say" -- I said yes, you're not going to "B" me, "P" me, "F" me, because I'm not T.R. I never said you are T.R.
Going back to me thinking that I could be the big brother, to defend my family and T.R. which is not my place to do, against so- called bullying.
So Knight had complained to Washington about Dempsey's abusive behavior, and when Dempsey became abusive toward Washington, he wanted to be clear with Dempsey that he was no faggot, like T.R.
Even accepting Washington's account, he was referring to himself but by way of contrast with Knight. "You can treat T.R. like a bitch or a faggot. But you won't get away with it with me." "I'm a man," in other words, "unlike that faggot Knight." With defenders like Washington, who needs bullies?
Can anyone imagine Washington accepting a similarly half-baked explanation if the roles were reversed? What if Dempsey had an on-set blow-up with a castmate and said, "I'm not your [N-word]. I'm not Isaiah." Would Washington have agreed the "N-word" wasn't used in reference to him? Methinks not.
I do agree with Washington that the situation was blown completely out of proportion, though Washington contributed more than his share by repeating the "F-word" at the Golden Globes, ruining the celebratory mood after the cast won several trophies. And his failure — to this day — to accept responsibility for the fact he did use the word in reference to Knight, only made matters worse.
Even still, I don't believe Washington should have been canned from the cast. And as a big fan of the show since its first episode, I'll miss Dr. Preston Burke and his quirky relationship with Cristina Yang (played by Sandra Oh).
But I am happy to see the "F-word" move closer and closer to the off-limits territory occupied by the "N-word," where it's no longer acceptable to use in any context, no matter how innocuous. A few semi-guilty folks like Washington may get overblown treatment, but it's a small price to pay for the societal good that will result -- in playgrounds and workplaces and TV sets everywhere.
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